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Academic Job Search

The 'typical' academic job search cycle is a bit of a misnomer. There are significant differences between departments and institutions - even between hiring committees within the same department. The following information presents the usual stages of the job search from the posting of positions to the negotiation of offers. As is the case for all aspects of the academic job search, the best sources for specific information and advice are supervisors, program deans or other faculty members in a relevant field.

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The Job Posting

Academic programs usually begin to post positions a full academic year before the successful candidate will begin to teach. The most common months for academic job postings are October and November, although there are some postings appearing as early as September and as late as December. Contract positions tend to be posted in Jan-March. Apart from the large national job posting boards like The Chronicle of Higher Learning (American) and University Affairs (Canadian), most fields have targeted online job boards. Program faculty and administrative staff can provide the web addresses most relevant to searches in that field.

Ideally, applicants will be networking heavily during the months leading up to the time they are 'on the market'. Conferences, meeting visiting scholars, introductions from supervisors (personal and via e-mail) can all be useful venues for meeting scholars with shared interests in other institutions. Sometimes these meetings can result in an invitation to speak at another institution, providing an excellent opportunity to 'try on' a specific university and/or department to determine whether or not it would be a good 'fit'. This is an effective way of targeting one's job search before actually beginning the application process.

The Application Process

The more applicants can target their application package (CV, cover letter, requested supplementary materials) to a particular department, the better they will seem to 'fit in' with that department. The job posting will list the areas of expertise required, but it is useful to visit the department's website to get a sense of how this position is placed within the scope of that department's offerings.

Applicants should consider what new courses they could bring with them and how their research interests complement those that already exist amongst the faculty of a given department. Hiring committees like applicants to be able to speak specifically about such matters during the job interview.

Because of the large volume of applications that usually follows a job posting, committees strongly prefer applicants to provide only the materials requested in the job posting. If the requested number of references doesn't allow for an exceptional case (e.g. an unusual breadth of experience or research), then it is acceptable to submit up to one or two extra references. Extra writing samples or lengthy documents of any kind detract from an otherwise strong file. Demonstrating the ability to compile a targeted and professional file reflects well on the applicant.

Screening Process

The specifics of the screening process vary with different searches, but generally, there is a three-stage process that whittles the hundreds of applications to a single job offer. The first stage is understandably the most lengthy as this is when every submitted file is read and evaluated. The length of time this stage takes depends on the schedules of the hiring committee members, the number of applicants and the timelines around the vacant position.

During the initial screening, a pool of up to 25 applicants will be short-listed, that is, selected to go through a preliminary interview, usually at a large, annual professional conference (e.g. MLA) or some other venue where both parties are likely to be without incurring extra costs.

After the first round of interviews, the pool is shrunk to 3-5 of the most impressive applicants. These people will be invited to a formal interview at the institution's expense. This 'interview' is actually a series of activities that will allow both the applicant and the department to determine the suitability of each to the other. Typically, these activities will be scheduled over a couple of days and will include a panel interview, a 'job talk' where the applicant gives an academic paper either to faculty, students or both, and several 'social' events (dinner, luncheons, cocktail parties). The successful applicant is selected shortly after the last round of interviews and will be expected to be on campus during the upcoming summer to be prepared to begin teaching the next fall.

Negotiating the Offer

It often comes as a bit of a shock to new faculty that they have some leverage with which to negotiate a job offer. Since many new Ph.D.s are moving from a living below the poverty line, to a respectable salary (in the case of tenure track positions) there is a tendency to be so grateful that they hesitate to 'rock the boat'. However, the starting salary is a strong determiner of lifetime earnings, so it is worth becoming educated about the options so the negotiations are equitable and not a source of future discontentment.

The fact is, once the final candidate has been identified, the university will do everything it can to ensure that person does not reject the offer. It can be useful to contact the university's faculty liaison officer for information about what is normal within the context of that institution before signing the final papers. Points of negotiation include salary, teaching time, start up costs, expense account, administrative duties, etc.

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